December 31, 2006

New Year Resolutions - Please take notes

The New Year is here and along with it come our resolutions which we hope, and I do mean hope, we will keep for at least the next 3-4 weeks.

There is one thing that my current employer, an Army Major Retired, did for me when I first started in his employ, and that was to provide me with a Franklin Planner, much to my objection as I thought I was one of the most organized people going. . I must say that 13 years later my Franklin contains my entire day to day life.

Three different binders and styles have come and gone, but my trusty handwritten planner is never very far from my side, though I am not quite as anal as some who carry a “satellite” where ever they go, my planner has come to be a dependable friend and traveling companion and admittedly at times my memory.

Franklin Covey has many programs that one can buy into intended to make people more productive and goal oriented thus, the marketing program goes, more successful. I am not so sure about the successful part, but, many major companies subscribe to the theory and have installed the Franklin Planner on their firm’s PC’s and purchase Franklin PDAs complete with seminars for their executives.

One of the Franklin tenets is that if humans write tasks and goals down then they are more committed to completing those tasks necessary to reach the goal. Also they espouse the belief that we will remember over 80% of what we write.

Personally I enjoy seeing the little checks rather than X’s or an arrow next to my daily planner entries, so there appears to be some validity in what they say. I should point out that 4 out of 5 of my fellow employees also use company supplied Franklin Planners and one, the retired major, is called by some, in our highly competitive industry, an Executive Search Superstar.

As I updated my planner for 2007 I pondered weather or not the Union County Freeholders were spending the day updating theirs for the New Year as well, that thought lasted all of about ½ a second, what was I thinking?

Though I no longer use all of the tools provided by my planner as my “personal goal” is to get through the day in one piece with my sanity in tact, I do assign my planned activities, both business and personal are intertwined, an A, B or C and an order of importance 1-2-3 and so on.

Planning for the day is akin to making resolutions daily and I am not suggesting that the Freeholders run out and buy Franklins, I am suggesting that perhaps they take a few minutes and make some resolutions for the upcoming year that they can stick to.

May I suggest the following?

Chairwoman Kowalski – please resolve to refrain from calling citizen speakers at the podium by their first names, as your predecessor Mr. Mirabella was in the habit of doing.

Freeholder Holmes – please resolve not to attempt to intimidate the citizens into silence by reminding them that county counsel is sitting on the dais and that their personal attorney’s are not present.

Freeholder Mapp – please resolve to lean on maintenance to get you a microphone that works, as you appear to have a lot to say and those in the back of the room would like to hear you.

Freeholder Sullivan – please resolve to curb your sarcasm as it is most unbecoming for a professional such as your self.

Freeholder Scanlon – please resolve to recuse yourself or to abstain from votes in witch you may have a personal interest, such as the upcoming approval of financial institutions which will be used by the county in 2007.

Freeholder Ward – please resolve to come to a meeting at least giving the appearance of being fully prepared.

Freeholder Estrada – please resolve to do what you know to be the right thing ethically this year, (enough said).

Freeholder Proctor – please resolve to review suggested resolution for Freeholder Estrada bearing in mind.that if the shoe fits etc.

Freeholder Mirabella – please resolve to remember that the citizens are indeed your equal and treat them accordingly; after all they put you where you are.

Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders As the Whole– please resolve to take whatever steps are necessary and not raise taxes this year.

As for me you may be asking just what is she resolving for 2007?

The answer is quite simple really, I publicly resolve to continue to do what I do which is to watch and comment on the activities of county government in Union County. I have already made it an A1 task in my Franklin Planner and intend to see a lot of little check marks this year.

Happy New Year to all of You and Yours!!!

December 21, 2006

Chronicle of Harassment

Orignially posted in April 2006

Union County spokeman, Sebastian D'Elia, denied taking pictures of women while harassing them at a polling station this past election day. The above is a picture of D'Elia taken by one of the women while he was taking pictures of them.

Thursday, April 27, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff
……..In a lingering issue from last week's school election, Nathalie Yafet has filed a police report about an incident that allegedly occurred outside a polling place at A. P. Morris School.
Yafet, whose husband, Steve, finished fourth with 629 votes in the school board race, charged she and former mayor Barbara Rowen were harassed by county employees supporting the rival Democratic slate of Daniels, Smith and Katina Ginyard.
She charged communications director Sebastian D'Elia confronted her and Rowen as they were handing out fliers and persisted at taunting them.
"Had they just come there and handed out their flyers, nothing would have happened," said Yafet. "They were sent there to harass us." Yafet said D'Elia accosted her and Rowen, and took pictures without consent of them with an unidentified voter. D'Elia, who denied the allegations .........Hillside Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo defended D'Elia.
"He is a friend who I sent out to help with a campaign," she said,.......

April 27, 2006.........I am submitting for the public record testimonials from county residents regarding the behavior of your PI department. Some of which accuse this department of outright harassment. I myself have been a victim of this harassment on 2 occasions. Both were witnessed. The head of this department has a salary and benefits package of well over one hundred thousand dollars. This is an executive’s salary and would be considered conduct unbecoming of an officer in the private sector.

We have a county government that has a public information machine that apparently exists to keep information away from the public and disengage them from the democratic process. This department appears to be an in-house campaign staff.

Tina Renna, Cranford

To the Editor:On Tuesday, April 18, 2006 I was handing out flyers for Yafet, Menza & Simmons for Board of Education at the A. P. Morris School polling place on Coe Avenue in Hillside. There were two other people there passing out materials for the opposition candidates. Late in the afternoon, they were joined by two county workers - James Pellettiere and Sebastian D’Elia. Mr. Pellettiere raised his voice to me several times, particularly after I had just spoken with a voter, but he did not threaten me nor did I feel threatened.

However, Mr. D’Elia began by taking an unsolicited photo of me and two other women. I told him that I did not want my picture taken and he replied, “Now I have all I need.” Then he continued harassing me and taunting me even going so far as to hint that he might try to get a friend of mine fired.

One of the women with me asked who he was and - since I had seen him last year at the same polling place bothering one of the mayoral candidates I knew who he was - I told her that he was Sebastian D’Elia. At this point, I was also extremely tired from having been there all afternoon in the sun and upset because Mr. D’Elia would not leave me alone, so in my response to my friend I added that he was, “The Lord High Minister of MIsinformation for Union County,” but that was the only “name” that I called him.

After this exchange, he followed after me when I went to speak to a voter, reached across to me while jabbing his hand towards me and said, “I ain’t through with you yet,” which I perceived as a direct threat especially in connection with the unsolicited photo.

I asked the other county worker for his name and he would not give it to me so my friend photographed this worker as well as Mr. D’Elia for identification purposes. He took additional unsolicited pictures of us as long as he remained at the polling place.

Mr. D’Elia went on a tirade, at one point, and called me an “idiot” and then remarked that he “loved lunatics like you because you help my people get elected.” He refused to stop the harassment, although we kept walking away from him and I asked him several times to leave us alone. Eventually, he got in his car and left but he yelled out the window at us as he drove away.

On Thursday, April 20 I made a report to the Hillside Police Department on Sebastian D’Elia’s harassment of me and his threats.

Election days do tend to bring out heightened behavior in people and I certainly understand that. However, there can be no excuse for D’Elia’s actions and his threats. And why are county workers sent to polling places to harass residents and voters? Are they being paid by taxpayer money to do this? If so, I am in the ironic position of reimbursing Mr. D’Elia for harassing me during the last school board election.

Nathalie Yafet, Hillside

Open Letter to the Union County Freeholders,
In the Fall of 2002, Freeholder Nicholas Scutari sent the residents of Roselle a letter assuring them that the county had no intention of reactivating the defunct Staten Island Line. County Manager Devaney, and Chairwoman Scanlon are quoted in newspaper articles assuring residents that the County would not go against the will of the governing bodies of the 8 affected municipalities regarding the M & E Freight taking over the line. During that period of time, Sebastian D'Elia was also quoted in newspapers denying any intention of the freight line reactivation. All these people publicly contradicted the fact that the contract with M & E Freight line was signed by the Board of Freeholders in May, 2002. I question how D'Elia let all the newspaper articles quote these people promoting lies regarding the M & E freight line. Is D'Elia the problem or has D'Elia become a problem because of the nature of what is required of his office by his superiors?

The mayors of the towns began to realize that the county was not telling them the truth about their dealings with Gordon Fuller of the Morristown & Eire Railine. Mayor Croteau of Roselle called me and asked if I would serve as the Roselle member of the Coalition formed by citizens of the towns to STOP this freight line. I agreed to serve.

As part of the effort to stop this freight reactivation, the Coalition began getting signatures on petitions against this county contract which paid M & E more than 10 million dollars to use the 23 acres of right of way in Roselle alone. The borough provided a booth at the street fair in Roselle that Spring to inform citizens what was happening and to have them sign the petition. Sebastian D'Elia made his rounds at the Fair, observing the large number of residents at our booth. He began screaming at me saying, "Why don't you go back to Kenilworth where you belong! These people aren't against the train!" His tirade continued as he ran from our booth. I tried to tell him that I am where I belong. I have lived in Roselle for 30 years. There was no dialogue, just his shouting me down. We, the citizens of Roselle, were obviously doing something unacceptable.

This is very bizarre and intimidating behavior for a county employee, especially since he is on the payroll for disseminating correct information to the people of Union County. He is not supposed to be paid for promoting the party line, right or wrong. His public behavior is unacceptable.

Arlene Murphy, Roselle

The Westfield Leader November 3, 2005

Letter to the editor:

I sat in awe (at the Union County Candidates Forum) as I watched some terrible behavior, not from the candidates, but from the audience. One guy kept coughing and making some very rude comments with others about other people who were there. Then after the debate was over, these same people went to speak with the Democrats, and I saw them speaking with them in the parking lot outside.

Why do the Democrats have to stage the audience?

Did you have someone covering this debate? Did they see the same thing?

Kurt Mueller, Cranford

Publisher's Note: Our reporter noted harassment of Mrs. Tina Renna at the forum by those believed working for the DEM Campaign. Her husband Joe Renna chased these individuals to their car after the event without further incident.

A chronicle of harassment:
While attending the freeholder debate held in Cranford in 2005 I was harassed by county public information department employees.

One employee sat directly behind me and insistently made comments about myself and my family and other things that were incoherent. A reporter who was sitting right in front of me heard the whole encounter and this was reported in the Westfield Leader. I wondered why a public information department employee would behave so badly right in front of the press.

At the end of the debate several of these employees posed for pictures while standing behind me and making faces and comments. The harassment only stopped when my husband entered the room. This was also witnessed by a reporter and an Editor from Worrall Community Newspapers. The public information department apparently had no fear of the media exposing their bad behavior nor did they care that there were approximately 200 people in the room including 4 freeholders.

Harassment while recently obtaining OPRA records in the county administration building:
When viewing public records in the county administration building recently Seb D’Elia made several passes through the freeholder room where I was seated. When I was paying for the records Seb passed by Clerk Marlena Russo’s desk and said “Hang in their Marlena” as if to imply I was causing a problem. When I was waiting for the elevator D’Elia came into the hallway and said to me “Who are you going to sue next?”.

This was all witnessed by a friend who accompanied me that day.

Tina Renna, Cranford

Dear Editor,
An article by Joe Ryan about Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA) president, Tina Renna, and the county rule which violates the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) did not substantiate the facts. County spokesman, Sebastian D'Elia is not the person to call to verify information about County problems. The Ledger has to back up what D'Elia claims with pertinent records. Ryan took D'Elia's word in preparing this article. This is unfortunate since D'Elia is the PR person the County uses for all kinds of political promos. Do reporters skirt getting Open Public Records concerning facts in their stories because the Union County information office makes it difficult and expensive to obtain them?

The County is actually saving time and money because of the UCWA. Instead of many citizens requesting the documents from the county, they can become informed, free of charge, harassment, and aggravation, by clicking on the UCWA Website ( Anyone wanting to know who is wasting County money should check the salaries of D'Elia and his large staff on the UCWA Website. Tina Renna, by requesting information from the county information office makes the staff work for the UC citizens, not for county political campaigns, preparing fliers, press releases, mailings, etc. During the last election year, my family received 32 lbs. of campaign mail.

In the past I requested OPRA records concerning the County contract with the M & E freight line running through 8 UC towns. Sebastian D'Elia called me at work asking me a number of questions, including why I wanted these records. Thank you, Tina Renna and the UCWA for challenging these OPRA policies as applied here in Union County.

Richard Lenihan, Roselle

Hi Tina,
Please note the following PR message that I received from Union County in response to my request for copies of their 2005 financial statements and 2006 budget. A simple request-- but a long-winded B.S. response that now requires me to submit an OPRA request. Now I see what you have been going through!

Stay well, and keep up the great work!

John Marquardt, Fanwood
----- Original Message -----
From: Sebastian Delia
Sent: Thursday, February 23, 2006 11:47 AM
Subject: RE: Union County 2005 Financial Reports and 2006 Budget

Dear Mr. Marquardt:
Thanks for writing with your concerns about government. The documents you are seeking are available through the Clerk of the Board’s Office by filing an OPRA form. The Clerk’s number is 908-527-4140
We agree with the fact that New Jersey’s over-reliance on property taxes continues to hit homeowners hardest. .... Real all of the long-winded b.s. response by clicking HERE

Public Information Department employee John Salerno, annual salary $81,546, was filmed on video on the campaign trail for Bob Menendez this past campaign season:

Click HERE to see video.

YOUR TIME IS UP! During a December 2004 freeholder meeting County Watcher Tina Renna was physically removed by two armed county police officers when she went a minute over the 5 minute time allotment to address the freeholders. Peacefully speaking and armed only with her notes on the abuses that occurred at the Juvenile Detention center which led to the State’s Child Advocate, Kevin Ryan, releasing a report on the death of a 17 year old. Ryan wrote “the county set the stage for his suicide”…. “The County has a disregard for basic human rights”..

Previously posted on 6/9/2006:

In his closing comments during last night's public meeting, Freeholder Chester Holmes reminded residents in the audience that “Our chairman here has his attorney sitting next to him. You need to ask yourselves do you have your attorney sitting next to you? You should keep that in mind when you cross the line while addressing this board”.

December 14, 2006

Bruce Paterson's Countdown to Disaster-2006

Bruce Paterson of Garwood presented his 2nd annual address to the freeholders this evening: “Union County Countdown to Disaster-2006, the Year in Review.”
The previous year 2005 was a disastrous year for this county government all at the expense of the residents. So in the beginning of 2006, I challenged Chairman Mirabella and the freeholder board to use accountability in the administering of this government. Lets countdown the year together to see how we did.

February-a second lawsuit in 5 weeks is lodged against the county, this one alleging the death of an inmate who died in custody due to the withholding and lack of medical treatment. Suit ongoing.

March-Oh, oh the runaway budget is up another 5%, taxes up another 5% totaling over 50% increase in 6 years for the hapless county residents. And the freeholder board comes up with press releases that say they want to help contain your taxes.

March- When the initial county budget numbers were released, there was a $13 million dollar mistake. Finance director Carolsselli, it turns out is moonlighting working as the finance officer for Linden. Finances are not to be taken lightly especially in 2 burdensome jobs. But it appears that this blatant pension padding for Director Carolsselli since he is planning to retire in a few more years, a second job will boost his pension close to another $30 grand a year. And the residents have to live with the financial mistakes.

April- While Chairman Mirabella wrote a feel-good letter to the local media about childhood drinking, he turned a closed eye last summer to the county allowing a 3 time convicted drunk driver to go free in lieu of being incarcerated. It turns out the felon was a county worker and good friend of the county manager George Devanney. The judge in the case actaully had to have that guy hauled back to jail.

May- The county wide newsletter “Union County Directions” which is sanctioned by the freeholder board, has an article by Senator Lesniak, the county manager’s uncle. In it Lesniak calls a school district and I quote: “the poster child for waste and corruption”. However, if a resident calls the freeholders corrupt, he gets gaveled and threatened. One wonders just who the freeholders boss is- the residents or Lesniak?

May-we all know about the abuse of power in the attorney general Zulima Farber case. What a fiasco, and then it turns out that a sitting freeholder Estrada is being investigated for taking part in this episode by allowing the boyfriends license to be restored without going thru proper legal procedure.

June-it came to light thru a lawsuit that a developmentally disabled person back in 2004, fell from the back of a county bus and died. This was hushed up by the county…until this year.

June- Sheriff Froehlichs son, who is an officer working in the county appears to have manipulated a county auction and ended up with $150,000 worth of cars for $300. The car dealer sued and won to stop this travesty.

June-A large amount of Tainted dirt was found dumped in the county owned quarry. No one knows how it all got there especially since the quarry is a closely monitored operation.

July-Union County is rated in the top ten counties in the nation for taxation

July- A lawsuit was filed against Freeholder Proctor for sexual harassment. This is the second one. The taxpayers are of course footing the bill. The county attempted to keep the news from the public.

August-Undersheriff Cryan is simply reprimanded for taking gratuity in the form of PGA golf tournament tickets and not reporting it. And he is in the law enforcement department.

August- The government records ruled against the county that the county wide newsletter, “Union County Directions” is proven an instrument of the county government. And as such all the political photos plastered within of those incumbents up for election and paid for by the county is misuse of taxpayer’s dollars. Hundreds of thousands of dollars is spent on this type of political misuse.

August- it came to light about an officer Fanellis lawsuit. She was heavily intimidated, demoted and embarrassed for not agreeing to support untrue statements said by a county officer. The cost of the lawsuit is approximately $1.5 million. All at the expense of the hapless county taxpayers.

September-County music fest at nomahegan park had the county government VIP tent suppied with alcohol, but no permit was taken out for it. A government spokesperson said the government doesn’t have to abide by its own laws. Isnt that nice.

September-Heres a quote from guy who should be the next freeholder chairman: Union County assistant prosecutor William Kolano- “People who work for the government will pay an extra price for their misdeeds.’ May I add-unless you have friends in government.

September-Trip to Chicago-15 county employees-taxpayers foot the bill for over $20,000 and counting. Next largest county contingent was only 6 members.

October-a $2 million dollar no-bid communications contract was found to be given out to freeholder scanlons sister. Although Scanlon was at the meeting when the vote took place, the records show that she excused herself. This contract was lumped into a larger amount and no discussion was done on this. Good to have friends in government.

December 10, 2006

Feeding at the public trough

There were 35 freeholder meetings scheduled for 2006. To date with 6 bills unaccounted for and 2 more meetings yet to happen taxpayers have picked up a $10,510.83 tab for 27 freeholder meeting refreshments.

On average this comes to $389.25 per meeting; $43.25 per freeholder. This doesn’t include miscellaneous bills for groceries at local supermarkets ($9,978.00) or bills for bottled water ($9,853.00 - What do the freeholder’s know about the drinking water in Union County that we don’t, and why aren’t they doing something about it?).

Dinner meetings of a public body of which there is a quorum and the public isn’t invited to attend and minutes aren’t kept are less than transparent. Who could believe that these elected officials are getting together before a meeting and not discussing public business?

There are many other ‘refreshment’ bills in the check registry and the Union County Watchdog Association will keep a monthly tab on these in 2007. A total for all catering bills marked ‘meeting or refreshment’ for the first three quarters of 2006 is $42,454.03.

Also not included in the above numbers are meeting refreshment bills that turn up under employee reimbursements. The UCWA doesn’t have hard numbers for these but here are some examples:

A staff meeting for a press conference for the Jets held in Berkeley Heights where the County Manager’s wife is the town administrator cost $286.63 at the Trap Rock Brewery in Berkeley Heights. There is another bill for $69.04 marked “lunch mts: Re: NJSEA also held in Berkeley Heights where the County Manager lives.

Freeholder Rick Proctor had a $49.00 room service breakfast at the Hyatt Regency on 2/18/06, since no one can eat a $49.00 breakfast alone, we have to assume he was meeting with someone.

The above numbers also don’t include the VIP catering for the so called “free” county concerts. The catering bill for the Music Fest where over 300 people attended the Freeholder’s VIP tent was never provided despite an OPRA request and inquires made during public comment at Freeholder meetings. The bill for the VIP tent alcohol hasn’t been provided to date either.

December 03, 2006

Let me share this with you

In September 2006 the County of Union held a summit on shared services in which officials from all 21 municipalities were invited to participate. Boards of Education were not invited to attend. The summit was facilitated by the Forums Institute and a summary they prepared of the summit was obtained by the Union County Watchdog Association using the Open Public Records Act.

According to the summary the purpose of the summit was to "facilitate an interactive dialogue with the county’s mayors and administrators to identify areas of potential shared or regionalized services".

Only 12 participants representing 11 of the 21 municipalities participated. And one of the 11 municipal administrators was the county manager’s wife. Fifteen county representatives were present including 3 freeholders. Some areas for change noted by participants were: Not enough municipal participation was mentioned three times; Need ideas to foster a better turnout.

Here's an idea: Switch the concept. Everyone knows that the County of Union has never saved a taxpayer a dollar. The municipalities run their governments with more respect for their taxpayers and their money than the county does. The municipalities should be taking over services from the county and keeping the money they send to them. And who knows, with the savings they might be able to throw a concert in town and treat their residents like VIP’s.

This past campaign season the incumbent freeholders didn’t mention the word “TAX” once in their campaign literature or their press releases. Their behavior has been indefensible and even they didn’t want to be associated with the money they are spending on waste and mismanagement. The media followed the county’s million dollar Public Information Department’s lead and barely mentioned county taxes.

County taxes have increased over 50% since the year 2000. What doesn’t get mentioned at all is that just prior to 2000, in 1995, the state took over the County Courts saving county taxpayers $17.2 million. But spending was only decreased by $1.2 million the following year and then jumped expeditiously every year thereafter.

One unnamed participant of the Summit noted the opportunity to network was valued because “true shared service will revolve from trust and relationships of individuals.” This comment smells like it came from a freeholder.

How can any municipal official with the intelligence to get elected, or put on their socks, “TRUST” the county government to take over their services and save them money?

County budget year/expenditures:
State takes over the county court system: 1995/$272.6
1996/$271.4; 1997/$278.7; 1998/$282.7; 1999/$288.2 …

The County of Union has never consolidated a service within its own government. If municipalities start paying the county to run their services there are a few things that are guaranteed to happen. One, the cost for the county to deliver the same services would be much higher than the sum total of what the municipalities currently spend. Two, the county would create a much larger work force and/or will add additional layers of supervisors, managers, bureau chiefs, and directors. Three, money collected from the majority towns would be diverted to the few towns that represent the freeholders voting base. Although I doubt even the City of Elizabeth sees an honest return on their county tax dollars.

We already saw the costly disaster that privatizing the County Print Shop has become. At one point the county run printing facility did printing for municipalities at an inexpensive rate. Now the bulk of the county's own printing is sent to an outside vendor. A campaign contributor who is located in Hudson County.

Union County in only one of two counties that have both a Police Department and a Sheriff's Department. We also have a Public Safety Department which the corrections officers who run the jail fall under.

The county even wasted money on their shared services “initiative”. They received a $104,500 state grant to study the possibilities of consolidating municipal services. They spent over $200,000 on a commercial and a mailer that was sent to every resident featuring a Freeholder, who just happened to be up for reelection just weeks away. The commercial touts county services that are already in place, like ball fields and Runnells Hospital. The county is now seeking another $298,357 state grant to spend on “sharing available resources efficiently”.

In the logical world consolidation makes sense. Most of the country has their services performed by a county system. But we are talking about New Jersey, the bizarro land of politics and government, where everything is backwards and upside down. In New Jersey we should do away with wasteful and redundant powerbroker controlled county government. The State would take over services such as the courthouse and the municipalities, which taxpayers have more direct control over therefore government is held accountable, would have the ability to maintain the properties in their own town.

New Jersey, with meaningful pay to play reform being only a dream, with ELEC laws that do not stop the county from spending hundreds of thousands annually on taxpayer funded campaign literature and commercials, with no ethics commission to stop county government from dolling out no bid contracts to family and campaign contributors, with no state oversight of county hiring practices, with little state oversight of employee benefits which have indebted us for generations.....yada, yada.

Handing this form of government more power would be disastrous to our fragile democracy here in Union County. History has shown this government has no interest in saving tax dollars, only generating more jobs, contracts and power.

View the report on the Union County Summit on Shared Services held on September 8, 2006 by clicking HERE.

View taxpayer funded shared services campaign commercial by clicking HERE.